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Extraordinary People - Maria Rabaino

I have known Maria's family for many years, and when tragedy struck, I was amazed at how she was able to transform something that for most people would be one of the worst things that could possibly happen into something truly amazing and inspiring!

Maria Rabaino

1. Tell me a little bit about your childhood and where you grew up. How would you describe your family and your town?

I grew up in a small town named Orangevale (for those who don't know that's in the Sacramento area). My family was very involved with our community by volunteering in any sport my siblings or I were a part of, which was why I was close with my family and the community growing up.

2. What kinds of things were you involved in as a teenager (sports, etc)?

I was a cheerleader from 4th grade until my sophomore year! I also was in my high school's drama club and was "most spirited" in my class!

Maria cheerleader

Maria as a cheerleader in high school

3. You were involved in a horrible accident that changed your life in a flash. How old were you, and what happened?

I was in a car accident when I was 2 weeks away from turning 19. I just got off work and a coworker invited me to drink beer with a few of his friends. Being the only one under 21 at the time, I knew not to drive and assumed that the driver would know when to stop so we could all make it home safely. Unfortunately I was wrong... at the end of the night while driving to a friend's house, he lost control of the car while speeding in the rain. We ended up hitting two trees and spun across the street until we hit a bush. The first tree actually ripped apart the drivers side of the car, and the second tree bent our car making the spinning even worse. While the seatbelt kept me alive and from getting brain damage, it also broke my back, which severed my spinal cord at the L1 level, paralyzing me from the hips downs. The other passenger broke his leg and sternum. Unfortunately the driver did not survive the wreck.

4. What is the recovery like for something like that, and what kinds of thoughts did you have to deal with?

I was fortunate enough to not remember any of the accident. My only memory is hanging out with my coworker and his friends and then waking up in the hospital, which helped make the emotional recovery a lot easier to deal with. The physical recovery took about five months, and the first three were the hardest. Two days after the car crash I went into back surgery and had to wear a back brace anytime I was sitting up. I had to relearn how to do everything: using the restroom, taking a shower, getting dressed, how to transfer in and out of my chair, and even how to pop a wheelie (yes they actually teach wheelchair users how to do that! It's helpful in case we need to get up a curb and there is no ramp). There was a lot I couldn't do because the back brace I had to wear for the first three months limited me, so my mom had to help take care of me until I could do it, which really made it hard on our relationship for awhile, constantly being at each other's side (except when we were sleeping). When the brace came off, I was able to learn how to do certain things that had been limiting me (including how to drive), and I was so motivated to get my independence back that it didn't take me long at all.

Cimorelli covering Kelly Clarkson's song "Stronger", in which they featured Maria's story at the beginning

5. How did you get involved with the wheelchair dance team that you belong to? What kinds of things does that group do?

I am on a wheelchair dance team called the Rollettes, and I have been on the team since it started 5 years ago (which is as long as I have been injured)! When I first got injured, my family and I learned about a new TV reality show called, "Push Girls", which was about 5 girls who use wheelchairs. We were so excited because just as this had happened to me, a show came out showing five girls who had been through something similar to what I had. Because of our excitement, we were looking up as much as we possibly could online. One thing led to another, and my family got a hold of one of the star's (Chelsie Hill's) dad! Her dad talked to my dad on the phone and then Chelsie (who is now my best friend) talked to me on the phone. At the time, they were both living in Monterey, which was a 3 and 1/2 hour drive to where I lived, so they drove up to meet me. After that, Chelsie told me about a dance team she was starting and asked if I wanted to join. I had only been injured for a few months, and I wanted to surround myself with as many people as possible who knew what I was going through, so I said yes! Since then, we have traveled nationwide to perform for (and sometimes speak at) disability events, schools, a T.J. Maxx commercial, and much more!

The Rollettes

Maria, center, with the Rollettes

Watch Maria and the Rollettes in action!

6. You’ve been married for a couple of years now, right? How did you meet your husband, and what challenges are you tackling in the early years of your marriage?

This July I will have been married to my husband Fel Ian for 3 years, and I couldn't be happier! Before the accident, we were both promoters for a night club that we both frequently went to, but we had never actually talked. Five months after the accident, I went out to see all my friend for the first time, and I saw him there. We quickly became friends, started dating, and then we fell for each other so hard that we got engaged 4 months into dating! There was so much going on in my life at the time that we stayed engaged for 2 years. We have always been good at communicating with each other; our biggest challenge is dealing with finances. I'm six years younger than him, so while he is trying to get a grasp on his career, I'm still figuring out what I want to do with my life. Regardless, because of our love and trust for each other, we always find a way to make things work, and I can't imagine life without him.

Beautiful bride Maria with her husband Fel Ian on their wedding day

7. What’s next for you?

I've recently started working out and posting my videos on Instagram (@mariatrabaino). While there are TONS of workout videos for non-disabled people, there aren't that many options for wheelchair users unless its upper body only. One thing many people don't know is that there are actually a good amount of wheelchair users that can feel and move their legs. Some of them can even walk (just not for long distances), so I've been looking at workout videos of non-disabled people and finding ways to adapt the exercises, and then sharing the videos to help other disabled people to workout a part of their body that is difficult for them to do. It's become a huge passion of mine, and I've already gone down from a size 9 to a size 5 in jeans!

8. That's amazing! Anything else you’d like to share?

If people want to learn about the dance team or get to know me:

Personal social media:

Instagram: @mariatrabaino

Dance team social media:

Instagram & twitter: @rollettes_la

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